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Processed Foods You Should Have in Your Home Pantry

Updated on March 9, 2020
Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle spends as much time in the kitchen as she does at a keyboard. It's no surprise that cooking and food are favorite article subjects.

"Freshly Canned" Tomatoes

Fresh and Natural is Great, but Sometimes . . .

Fresh, raw and organic foods are very popular today, as people try to make their diets more healthful and natural, but there can still be a place in your pantry for some of the now-to-be-dreaded, processed foods.

As a minimum, you probably will want to keep some kind of broth or bouillon, canned tomatoes, vegetables and fruits, as well as canned beans.

Yes, you "can" use dried beans, fresh or self-preserved tomatoes and your own simmered broth-- but in times of stress, sickness or power disruption, you will want foods that save you time and energy.

If you live a long way from stores, or if you are faced with emergency conditions, having some processed storable foods available can be a life saver.

Also, if you are careful in your choices, you can still make selections that avoid some of the worst additives and ingredients.

Variety Helps

Read Label Information

How do you make the best choice for your pantry items?

  • First, check the expiration date, expiry date, or "best if used by" date. The truth is, most canned foods are "good" for much longer than the date posted on the can. "Good" means that it will not kill you or make you ill after the posted date, even if the product loses a little quality in color or texture. If you use commercially canned items only occasionally, make sure they are dated for at least a year ahead of the purchase date. Two years is better. Always get the latest dated items you can find for storage. Sometimes the newest products are way at the back of the shelf, since the store likes to rotate its goods, too.
  • Read the ingredient list. Yes, It takes time, especially if the list is three inches long and contains lots of thing you cannot pronounce. If the list IS that long and full of unpronounceable words, this a red flag in itself. Are you buying food or a chemical experiment?

  • Even if you are trying to be more natural and additive-free in foods, you can select shelf-stable foods that will suit your needs. Sometimes you just need something that is fast and easy to prepare. Ingredients in various brands of canned foods vary. Pick the freshest and best you can find which also have the fewest questionable additives.There are also brands of canned organic products which have no offensive additives and are marked with the same expiration date as the one with preservatives. The ingredient list on some black beans and pinto beans says : "Organic beans, water, and sea salt." That's about as close to fresh as you can get in a can.

  • Read the Small Print. You might notice that some of the most important information is in the smallest type size possible. Take a hard look at the additives, fats and sugars that seem omnipresent in almost every part of the modern western diet. Choose less processed and less additive-laden varieties whenever possible.
  • Make sure the can is not damaged, dented, leaking, bulging, or being attacked by mold, fungus or extraterrestrial life forms of any color or texture.

Whenever possible, buy foods that are dated beyond the day of the latest "end of the world" prediction.

Canned Tomatoes

There are some attractive and versatile canned tomato products you may wish to keep on hand. Tomato sauce, stewed tomatoes and spaghetti sauce save you some work and can be used in many ways.

Some diced tomatoes are have an Italian flair with added basil, garlic, and oregano. Others May be "fire roasted" or have a Mexican accent with chilies and onions.

One thing you might consider with the "enhanced" tomatoes is that they may also contain high fructose corn syrup or other sugars. If sugars are added to the canned recipe, it may be an indication that the tomatoes may not be the ripest or best quality.

It is very important to check the condition of the cans and dates on these particular products. Check cans for bulging, leaking etc and throw out any questionable containers if they develop suspicious symptoms. It might indicate spoilage which can make you sick or even dead.

If you like commercially prepared tomato-based sauces you might consider the ones in Atlas, Mason or other glass canning jars. The containers let you see the product and they are reusable when you want to can your own tomatoes, or other fruits or vegetables. (Even if you don't plan to can. You can, at least save jars for those who do can.)

Canning Your own

On the other hand if you are willing to give the idea of home canning your tomatoes in glass jars-- you will find it is one of the easiest foods to preserve in this way. You don't need a pressure cooker.

You will need to buy our own canning lids or jars-- or buy paraffin wax to top your jams. Another good thing about glass jar canning is that you can see the product inside the container-- if it starts to percolate, or turn strange colors it is ready to be dumped or taken to a local toxic waste disposal site.

Canning your own home grown tomatoes is pretty simple, as is making jam, jellies and pickles. It takes some time, but you might feel it is worth the effort if you have a quantity of fresh fruits and vegetables.

In addition to the satisfaction you gain from doing it yourself, and probably saving money, you will KNOW exactly what your jars contain. (You are probably not going to be adding high fructose corn syrup, MSG or autolyzed yeast to your recipes. ).

"Stock" Piles

Canned or aseptic packaged broths are very handy to have on hand. For making soup out of various ingredients, for flavoring bland but filling dishes like potato, rice or pasta, or just as a comforting warm beverage when you are not feeling well, you probably want to keep some chicken, beef or vegetable stock in your cupboard.

Packaged Chicken broths:

  • "Brand S": sodium, 570 mg.This was a lower sodium version. The regular one in this brand has 960 mg per serving. There's also a no sodium version. Ingredients: Dextrose Autolyzed Yeast extract, celery juice concentrate, carrot juice concentrate and onion juice concentrate
  • "Brand G " has 970 mg sodium per serving also has monosodium glutamate, dextrose, autolyzed yeast extract, water, corn syrup, partially hydrogenated soybean or cottonseed oil, xanthan gum, caramel color invert sugar also contains milk and soy.

Of the two, brand G is cheaper-- no surprise. Which one seems more healthful. Which one would you rather serve to your family?

There are also broth concentrates which have some advantages. They take up less space, they leave behind less packaging and are often cheaper per serving. Check the sodium content.

Recommendation: In this case, look for the name brand when it's on sale and stock up on the quality products in either (or both) canned and aseptic packaged varieties. The containers are recyclable. You may notice that this particular product is often featured as a special sale item during the holidays. Buy it. Check the dates and labels.

Reasons you want broth in your pantry:

  • Convenience: Easy and tasty way to make soup out of leftovers.Easy way to stretch the soup or make good gravy.
  • Emergency: Quick to heat up for a warming cupful, even with emergency heat sources. Served with crackers and cheese or canned spreads, it can seem like a real meal.
  • Convalescent diet: If you are sick or taking care of someone who is under the weather, you don't want to run to the store or spend hours making broth. Chicken soup also seems to have some actual benefits for cold or flu victims.

Also, if you are on a liquid diet for medical tests, you want to have lot of this "stocked". Of course, you could make your own stock and freeze it. That way you control the sodium and there are no questionable ingredients.


Meaningless Information on Chicken Stock Labels

"Our products have been chosen according to our highest specifications.
"Enjoy our commitment to quality and value."

"Natural Goodness ! "

"Made with All NATURAL Chicken Stock."

Notice that it doesn't say that ALL the ingredients are natural, it is just "with" them. It is good to know that there is something natural in there, even if the "goodness" can't actually be quantified.

Thes statements usually appear in large splashy graphics. The real information is in the tiny typeface of the ingredients.

What to Look For

  1. Quality of ingredients -- go for nutrient dense foods.

2. Order of ingredients -- the ingredients are listed by predominance of ingredients.

3. Small number of ingredients -- especially artificial additives and "mystery ingredients".

4. Adaptability -- how many ways can you use it? Tomatoes can be sauce, soup, casserole ingredient, salad topping, etc

Compare the labels of canned and packaged goods you already have. You can learn a lot from the ingredients and the nutrition facts.

A simple general rule about additives is to avoid sodium nitrite, saccharin, caffeine, olestra, acesulfame K, and artificial coloring. Not only are they among the most questionable additives, but they are used primarily in foods of low nutritional value.

Also, don’t forget the two most familiar additives: sugar and salt. They may pose the greatest risk because we consume so much of them. You need to consider these closely if you have certain health problems.

Most additives are considered safe and some even increase the nutritional value of the food.

You can find a link describing common additives here.

Other Good Storage Items

Dried grains, legumes and beans: These items have the shortest ingredient list of anything in your pantry . Their "list" generally says something like "pearl barley"," black beans", or "whole rolled oats". These basically unprocessed items can be kept for long periods of time when protected from insects, light, extreme temperature, and humidity.

Cutting back on fast foods, sugars, corn syrup, hydrogenated fats and chemical ingredients is a good idea, but just because you are eating better, doesn't mean you need to toss every packaged and canned food out the window.

There are still a few commercially prepared foods that are worth keeping in your personal stockpile, for convenience, variety and emergency.


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